Canada's Ambassador to the United States Kirsten Hillman speaks via video link at the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta., on September 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Keystone XL not the same project John Kerry nixed in 2015, Canada’s U.S. envoy says

Keystone XL not the same project John Kerry nixed in 2015, Canada’s U.S. envoy says

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President-elect Joe Biden’s new climate envoy may be the same person who nixed the Keystone XL pipeline expansion in 2015, but the project itself has evolved significantly since then, Canada’s U.S. ambassador said Tuesday.

Biden’s choice of John Kerry as a special presidential adviser on climate might seem to be the stake through the heart of the undead $8-billion pipeline, considering the former secretary of state was the one swinging the hammer five years ago.

Kirsten Hillman, however, doesn’t see it that way.

“Times have changed,” the ambassador said in a conference call after a panel discussion hosted by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

“The project itself is not the same project; the company itself, (TC Energy), has made enormous innovations; and the sector is enormously innovative — they’re cutting their emissions in important ways.”

Canada, too, has evolved since then, she said, having established a long-awaited carbon-pricing system and committed to virtually eliminating emissions in 30 years — a target enshrined in legislation introduced just last week in the House of Commons.

“Of all the countries from which the United States … can get their fossil fuels, we’re the one with a price on carbon, we’re the one with a commitment to zero emissions by 2050,” Hillman said.

“So regardless of who we will be talking to, we will bring our facts to that conversation.”

Moments after Hillman finished speaking, Kerry took the podium in Delaware, where Biden was introducing his newly named senior cabinet appointees, and promptly framed his job as an aggressive foreign-policy endeavour.

“To end this crisis, the whole world must come together,” Kerry said, predicting that next year’s UN climate conference in Scotland would be the moment of truth.

“At the global meeting in Glasgow one year from now, all nations must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together. And failure is not an option.”

Biden was vice-president throughout the eight years that Keystone XL became a political football for former president Barack Obama. It was a persistent irritant to Canada-U. S. relations and a flagship cause for progressives and environmentalists around the world.

During that time, it came to define the widening fissure between an energy industry that’s straining to redefine its mission in the 21st century and a public increasingly opposed to North America’s dependency on fossil fuels — a tension that has created deep-seated political challenges in Canada, where the oilpatch is central to the country’s economic fortunes.

Biden’s campaign left little doubt about his plans back in May, when it finally declared he was “strongly opposed” to the project and would “stop it for good” next year by rescinding approvals issued by President Donald Trump.

That hasn’t prevented TC Energy from doing its best to frame Keystone XL as a proposal the Biden administration can get behind, particularly as the U.S. looks for ways to kick-start its pandemic-bruised economy.

The company has awarded more than US$1.6 billion in contracts to American construction firms, work it says will support more than 7,000 union jobs next year, and plans a clean energy training fund worth US$10 million. It has inked an investment agreement with a group representing First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The project is designed to ferry up to 830,000 additional barrels a day of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands into Nebraska and eventually to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Some 200 kilometres of pipe have already been installed, including over the Canada-U. S. border, and construction has begun on pump stations in Alberta and several U.S. states.

TC Energy spokesman Terry Cunha described Keystone XL as setting “the standard for responsible and sustainable energy infrastructure development,” citing efforts to enlist Indigenous equity partners and employ 11,000 U.S. workers.

”We are constantly evaluating new and innovative ways to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies,” Cunha said in a statement.

“We have long been committed to leadership in protecting the environment, while delivering the energy North America needs every day in the safest and most responsible means possible.”

Notwithstanding aggressive efforts to slash emissions, fossil fuels will remain an integral part of life in both Canada and the U.S. going forward, said Hillman, which is why Keystone XL discussions need to be part of a broader strategy linking energy and the environment.

“It’s also a project that we will discuss in the context of our entire energy relationship, and in the context of our entire relationship around climate change and carbon emission reductions,” she said.

“These things exist in an entire context, and that context is one where there is enormous potential for collaboration with the Americans.”

A new report from Canada’s federal energy regulator noted Tuesday that regardless of those efforts, oil and gas is likely to remain a factor for decades to come.

“Achieving net-zero (greenhouse gas) emissions by 2050 will require an accelerated pace of transition away from fossil fuels,” the report says.

But the report projects that even with many more policies to curb emissions than are currently in place, oil and gas would still make up nearly two-thirds of energy sources three decades from now.

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Keystone XL

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